Oct 27

“Thank You for Your Service”: After-War PTSD

True and trite in equal measure, this film understands that war is fought by an army, but the after-war is every man for himself. David Ehrlich, IndieWire, regarding new film Thank You for Your Service

In a matter of several years David Finkel‘s bestselling 2013 nonfiction book Thank You for Your Service has been adapted into a 2015 documentary and now a feature film written and directed by Jason Hall.

Chris Schluep, Amazon critic, described the distinction of Finkel’s book about the Iraq War: “…(T)here are great truths inside, none more powerful than when Finkel writes: ‘while the truth of war is that it’s always about loving the guy next to you, the truth of the after-war is that you’re on your own.”

From the review of documentary Thank You for Your Service by Ken J

‘Thank You for Your Service’ starts with a frantic, tear-filled 911 call reporting a suicide. It’s a gut-wrenching moment in a documentary that’s filled with them, and with scenes that make you want to scream in frustration at the bureaucracy faced by combat veterans seeking mental health services…

…uses its late scenes to explore nongovernment programs that have arisen to help veterans. Those examples are heartfelt and encouraging, and offer some hope after the devastating early sections.

Still, that hope is tempered by cruel reality. This important film ends with a silent onscreen note: ‘While you have watched this documentary, a veteran has committed suicide.’

The new film, as introduced by Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice: “Hall brings the war home, tracking three discharged soldiers (played with aching hurt and camaraderie by Miles Teller, Beulah Koale, and Joe Cole) who return to the Midwest and their families to find nothing the same as it was, especially themselves.”

More from Charles Bramesco, The Guardian, who offers a mixed perspective reflective of the overall ratings so far: “With a lack of detail rooting them to their cultural moment, the challenges faced by soldiers Adam, Tausolo and Will (Miles Teller, Beulah Koale and Joe Cole, respectively) end up as interchangeable and disposable as the army considers the men themselves to be. The trio of field brothers get sent back to the States following a bloody shootout with unseen insurgent forces, toting with them souvenirs of PTSD, survivor’s guilt and general mental infirmity.”

More specifically: “Fate deals them individual turbulences upon what they had assumed would be a triumphant return: Adam’s unprepared for the demands of fatherhood, Solo is so hard up for money that he falls in with a local gang (the least-believably-written bit in a film riddled with vague approximations of real life) and Will’s greeted by an empty home and a traitorous fiancee. The men all face their tribulations the same way, just as countless have before them – with silence and repression.”

The trailer:

Main themes and a summary, per Scherstuhl:

Thank You for Your Service covers the epidemic of suicides among veterans, the overcrowding of the VA system, the crushing months that it takes to get help and the occasional hostility, among some military types, toward the very idea of mental health care. Hall sugars up all this hard truth with climactic scenes of forgiveness and self-sacrifice, emotional breakthroughs and sudden new beginnings, but he eschews empty promises about life ever being easy for these soldiers. Instead, his film argues that heroism at home starts with opening up and seeking help. In that, his imperfect film is a public service worth being thankful for itself. It’s not always effective drama, but as an example for thousands of struggling American families, it’s a serious breakthrough.

Owen Gleiberman, Variety: “The most powerful aspect of the movie is that, in its plainspoken and affecting way, it demystifies the agonies of post-traumatic stress disorder. It understands PTSD not as some sort of blankly ravaged emotional shutdown but as the most healthy response possible to the violence that war commits.” Furthermore, feeling one hasn’t done enough while serving in the war is shown to be common to these surviving soldiers.

Nov 07

“Whiplash”: Teacher’s Abusive Style, Student’s Perfectionism

I’ve seen the trailer for Damien Chazelle‘s highly acclaimed Whiplash several times in the theater. Although I’ve decided it’s probably not for me, a review of the reviews is still in order.


Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times: “Fear. Passion. Blood. Sweat. Tears. Pounding through the beat of a drum. Screaming in the crash of the cymbals. Fast, furious, raging perfection in bleeding hands, broken sticks, broken relationships, broken lives. Debris surrounding transcendent greatness. Ecstasy within the agony.”

Brian Tallerico, rogerebert.com, explains the plot basics:

A young man named Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) is practicing late at night at his New York music school, one of the best in the country, when his drumming catches the ear of the infamous Mr. Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), the most important teacher at the school and the conductor for its most important jazz band. Fletcher pauses, listens, barks a few orders at the young man, and moves on, seemingly dissatisfied with what he heard. Andrew had his chance, that one brief moment many of us have to impress the people who can change our lives, and he didn’t cut it. He goes back to his routine class band, telling his dad (a wonderfully genuine Paul Reiser) that his opportunity to move up probably passed him by.


David Edelstein, Vulture: “The title Whiplash is dead-on. That’s what it is; that’s what it gives you.”


Before you watch, a warning: a strong aspect of Whiplash is Fletcher’s intense verbal, emotional, and physical abuse of Andrew, purportedly to coax excellence out of him.


Brian Tallerico, rogerebert.com: “How far are you willing to push yourself to succeed? How far are you willing to push someone else to force them on the path to success?”

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “The question is: how much should one talented but sensitive individual be willing to suffer for his art at the hands of one brilliant but terrifying bully?”

Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times: “The question Chazelle poses is whether psychological pain is the price of greatness. Does it take emotional scarring and physical extremes to push the talented to reach extraordinary heights?”


David Edelstein, Vulture:

[Fletcher’s] behavior is monstrous, but the question hangs: Does Andrew at this point need a ‘bad’ father? Andrew’s real dad (Paul Reiser) is a soft, mild presence, a man who watches black-and-white movies and sprinkles Raisinets on his popcorn. He loves Andrew unconditionally—which is just what we want from a parent, right? The absence of such unconditional love fuels billions of hours of therapy and is the root of a thousand unreadable memoirs. But to go to the next level, does an artist need to fear being shamed?


Tomas Hachard, NPR: “What Chazelle stresses about Andrew is his obsessiveness. And what he really nails about obsession, about those people who work tirelessly at a specific goal, is that their struggle is not about achieving success rather than failure. It’s about demonstrating genius rather than mere talent.”


Brian Tallerico, rogerebert.com: “Simmons perfectly captures the drive of a man who believes his abusive degree of pressure is the only way to produce a diamond.”


Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News: “The story arc is too predictable, the near-complete absence of women a bit disconcerting. The movie skitters towards its audacious premise — endorsing misery as creative motivation — without having the nerve to commit fully.”

Peter Debruge, Variety: “…ultimately about a rivalry not between Andrew and his instructor, but between the promising teenage drummer and himself.”

Richard Corliss, Time: “… Chazelle provides a potent metaphor for artistic ambition as both a religion and an addiction. You go through Hell to reach your goal, and maybe Hell was the best, most intense part of the process.”

Sep 04

“The Spectacular Now”: “Almost” Or Full-Blown Alcoholic?

In the new indie movie The Spectacular Now, lead character Sutter (Miles Teller) is a high school senior who goes nowhere without his flask of booze. He meets shy Aimee (Shailene Woodley) and develops a romance that for him is unexpected and for her is an initiation—including to the ways of the flask.

Both have some difficulties at home with their moms, and neither lives with a father, but Sutter wants to reconnect with his (Kyle Chandler). The Spectacular Now trailer sets up the basics pretty nicely:

Director James Ponsoldt has said that it’s the romance he wanted to emphasize. Thus, it’s show-not-tell when it comes to Sutter’s drinking. In other words, it’s rarely mentioned, at least not in any depth.

Most critics have diagnosed Sutter as coming short of a full-blown problem, though some do perceive the latter. Wording has included the following and more:

  • “budding alcoholic”
  • “a tendency to drink too much”
  • “a fledgling alcoholic”
  • “serious drinking problem”
  • “growing drinking habit”

What would psychiatrist Robert Doyle, MD, and psychologist Joseph Nowinski, PhD, authors of last year’s Almost Alcoholic, think? As part of Harvard’s The Almost Effect project, they take on the type of drinking issue that doesn’t quite fit the standard diagnosis for alcoholism—but nonetheless brings with it extra life problems.

Almost a third of drinkers are in a problem category, they report; many of this group have the “almost” or “subclinical” type of alcoholism.

CBS News lists “10 Signs You Might Have a Problem” (adapted from the book). A few yeses can mean you’re almost there. A majority of yeses may mean you’re already there.

  1. You drink to relieve stress.
  2. You drink alone.
  3. You look forward to drinking.
  4. Your drinking may be related to one or more health problems.
  5. You drink to relieve boredom or loneliness.
  6. You drive after drinking.
  7. You drink to maintain a “buzz.”
  8. Your performance at work is not what it used to be.
  9. You aren’t comfortable in social situations where there is no drinking.
  10. You find that drinking helps you overcome your shyness.

What I believe is that Sutter’s already there. Go see this highly praised, very well-acted, and meaningful movie, and decide for yourself.

The following videos feature authors co-authors Doyle and Nowinski, respectively, Q & A style: